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Know the West

A long, strange trip: A review of Pot Farm


As blunt as its title, Pot Farm, a memoir by poet and professor Matthew Gavin Frank, goes straight to the point: You, the reader, will take a trip through the world of medical marijuana cultivation and sales, in the process becoming familiar with the unusual and even bizarre cast of characters at Weckman Farm, and perhaps even getting a serious contact high, plus a case of the giggles.

"Given the nature of the pot farm and the people who work there, I am changing names as well as not talking about certain things. Unreliable, I am Binjamin Wilkomirski, and James Frey … (recent and notoriously dishonest memoirists). I am waiting to be crucified on Oprah, then sign a seven-figure deal."

With this opening caveat, Frank is off and running, chronicling the season he and his massage-therapist wife spend at a remote pot plantation in Northern California, she ministering to the tired pickers and trimmers, he working as a trimmer himself. They're fleeing the inanities of life in contemporary Chicago, as well as the slow death of Frank's mother from cancer. But the couple soon finds they've traded one kind of hell for another, though Mendocino County's version is more entertaining.

Woven into Frank's sometimes hallucinatory description of life with Lady Wanda (the farm's owner), Charlie the Mechanic, and the German Shepherd (its on-site medical doctor) are hard-core details about the medical marijuana industry and its repeated collisions with law enforcement and Congress, pot thieves and the very ill who need Weckman Farm's product.

Perhaps most moving is the story of wheelchair-bound Gloria, one of the farm's resident patients, who works, when she is able, for her medicine. She and Crazy Jeff, another patient-worker, travel to Sacramento to lobby California legislators for more efficient and compassionate laws. Marijuana is a natural remedy that can ease nausea, alleviate pain and sometimes help sufferers when everything else has failed. And what happens after Gloria visits the state capital will elicit deep empathy, even from those readers who might be tempted to remain cynical, given the playful and often sardonic nature of Pot Farm.